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LA MESA -- City staff worked for years, reviewing growth projections and updating its game plan for managing the inevitable changes that come with that growth. The nearly $500,000 study -- called the General Plan Update -- is intended as a guide to citizens and developers about how land can be used in La Mesa and how the city is intending to mitigate environmental challenges brought on by growth.
Tuesday night the City Council was poised to review the massive document and more than 200 residents filled the council chambers to overflowing. Virtually all of those citizens, however, were from one neighborhood and in statement cards and speeches made this simple point: Don't mess with Lemon Avenue.
Buried amid the General Plan as originally written -- which also has paved the way for live chicken ownership in La Mesa -- was a proposal that would have allowed a local developer to build commercial facilities at the corner of Bancroft Drive and Lemon Avenue, an area that is now strictly residential homes.
The small parcels (see photo right) had been cleared years ago as Caltrans built State Road 125 and had been sold off at auction as surplus. A speculator purchased the land and has attempted several times to get commercial uses approved, but each time the neighborhood has risen up and beat back the proposal. They judge the lots to be inappropriate for commercial development saying they would worsen traffic and change the nature of a serene, residential area.
The city's Planning Commission eventually agreed with the neighbors and the General Plan was adjusted to limit development on those lots to a "suburban residential'' designation.
But having fought this fight before, the Lemon-Bancroft neighbors weren't taking any chances and came out en masse with "no rezoning" stickers. The neighbors listened politely as council members reviewed the document for more than an hour and then took to the microphone in a long series of speeches they hope will put this issue to bed for at least another generation.
The council was quick to respond, at one point even trying to pass a special ordinance when the General Plan approval was all that was needed to block commercial development there.
The General Plan also quietly brought to an end years of handwringing over whether La Mesa would support giving citizens the right to keep chickens in their yards. (That change was a pet project of local resident Patrick Dean, who was appointed to the city's Community Services Board Tuesday night.)
The General Plan Update, which was approved by a 5-0 vote, now states the city's willingness to establish rules for chicken ownership and management, but city staff still will need to develop the licensing and management rules so legal poultry will once again roam -- and peck through -- the Jewel of the Hills. Those rules are certain to include one prohibition: No roosters!
The Lemon-Bancroft neighborhood crowd spilled out of the Council chambers and into the breezeway outside.